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Uptown Entertainment District: 'Three Treasures' Getting Makeovers

By Adeshina Emmanuel | August 16, 2013 9:13am
 The Aragon Ballroom, Riviera Theatre and Uptown Theatre are considered integral to the plan to make Uptown a prominent entertainment destination.
Improvements on Deck for Three 'Treasures'
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UPTOWN — A trio of historic venues known as the “three treasures of Uptown” and considered integral to a plan to make the community a prominent entertainment destination are getting makeovers as the city works to spruce up the neighborhood, Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said.

This summer, crews have been working to repair the venues that officials hope will be the anchors of a bolstered entertainment district: the Aragon Ballroom, the Riviera Theatre and the long-shuttered Uptown Theatre.

Cappleman divulged details about what improvements have been made — and what's still in store — in an email to constituents Thursday.

“Under the city's supervision, repair work has been occurring at the Aragon Entertainment Center, Riviera Theatre, and Uptown Theatre,” Cappleman wrote. “Exterior and interior repairs are scheduled to be completed at the Aragon in September, while tuckpointing and masonry repairs are ongoing at the Riviera.”

A permit was issued in July for masonry repairs at the Riviera, 4746 N. Racine Ave., and the tarp covering its parapet and "distressed" terra cotta was finally removed later in the month, according to the city law department. The tarp had been there for several years.

The Aragon, 1106 W. Lawrence Ave., and Riviera had run into some trouble with the city in housing court, where they faced hefty fines for having various building code violations.

And the Uptown Theatre, which has also been in housing court recently over building code issues, has sat vacant and in disrepair for decades despite a lot of talk of its rebirth. Jerry Mickelson's Jam Productions, which owns the Uptown Theatre at 4816 N. Broadway, is also behind the LLC that owns the Riviera.

Uptown resident Ruth Robles, 24, lives across the street from the Aragon, at the corner of North Winthrop and West Lawrence avenues. She has attended events there and found the place "really elegant, and fancy," she said, adding that "inside it seems structurally safe."

She is more concerned about the restoration of the Uptown Theatre, which is owned by Mickelson.

"A lot of people in Uptown want to see it restored. Because its just been an empty vacant place for so long. If they restore it, they should do it the proper way," Robles said. "I would be concerned if the owner can't take care of his other properties."

But at a July 18 housing court hearing, attorneys for the Uptown Theater agreed to have a structural engineer perform a critical examination of the building’s facade and the interior and exterior of its chimney, and make necessary boiler repairs by Dec. 1.

The lawyers also agreed to have a pipe from the roof to the basement that was leaking repaired this summer.

The city law department said that the next court date to check on the status of repairs is Dec. 17.

“Work at the Uptown continues to protect the building from water intrusion and damage while a long-term redevelopment plan is worked out,” Cappleman said in the email.

A city official said earlier this year that a redevelopment plan could be coming this summer, but there haven't been any updates on that front. The alderman, however, had previously said he expects a financial plan to be completed by the end of the year.

About $70 million dollars is necessary for the renovation, which would take at least two years once it starts, according to Cappleman's office.

City officials have indicated in interviews that the financing package could be a mix of private funds, government assistance including federal tax credits and tax increment finance dollars.

Cappleman's chief of staff, Tressa Feher, told DNAinfo Chicago that there won’t be a big “boom, there it is” moment with the entertainment district plan.

“It’s going to happen gradually," she said about the district's development.

But the one thing that would allow supporters of the plan to say "okay, we're back," is the rebirth of the Uptown Theatre, Feher acknowledged.

Mickelson, the theater's owner, did not respond to requests for comment.